Day, Holliday T. and Hollister Sturges. "Introduction." In Art of the Fantastic: Latin America, 1920-1987, 38-40. Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1987.
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In this introduction, Holliday T. Day and Hollister Sturges explain how the theme of “the fantastic” underlies the art of the twenty-nine artists included in the exhibition The Art of the Fantastic: Latin America, 1920-1987. In explaining their use of the idea of “the fantastic” as an organizing rubric for the exhibition, they distinguish “the fantastic” from European surrealism by stressing how, in Latin America it has evolved as a spontaneous, not intellectual, phenomenon in art. Day and Sturges identify six “cultural forces” that fostered “the fantastic” in Latin American art: the Catholic church, conquest and colonialism, pre-Columbian and African cultures, political oppression, contact with Europe and the U.S., and isolation. These themes, they explain, are “explored” by the artists (who represent “three generations”) featured in the exhibition.
This introduction appeared in the catalog for the exhibition entitled The Art of the Fantastic: Latin America, 1920-1987, which was organized by Holliday T. Day and Hollister Sturges for the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1987. It traveled to The Queens Museum, the Center for Fine Arts in Miami, and the Centro Cultural/Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City, and was indeed among the first in a wave of exhibitions of Latin American and Latino art supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. In many ways, the organizing rubric of “the fantastic”—its emphasis on surrealism, magical realism, and an irrational and exotic sense of Latin American culture—established a popular, worn-out framework for the reception of Latin American art in the United States during the 1980s. By the end of this decade and early- ‘90s, the dominance of this perspective also provoked substantial criticism on the part of Latin American and Latino critics, generating both texts and exhibitions challenging it. The main problem with The Art of the Fantastic turned out to be its unabashed embrace of a North American point of view that lacked factual information about Latin American art and was shaped by long-standing prejudices about Latin American culture. While Day and Sturges, in this introductory text, do in fact acknowledge the different interpretive lenses of Latin American art historians and audiences, they are unwilling to adjust or expand their methods. Instead, they describe an idea of “the fantastic” shaped by U.S. stereotypes of Latin America. The fantastic is, according to their description, “spontaneous” and inborn; and, moreover, it is something “rudimentary” rather than “intellectual.”